7 January 2014


Building a new health-care supply chain

A typical Asian laptop manufacturer can accept an order on a Monday and deliver a pallet of freshly assembled customized computers to a European customer little more than a week later. In contrast, a typical pharmaceutical manufacturer has a lead time of about 75 days. How can medical-device and pharmaceutical manufacturers close the gap? Of the five comprehensive transformations we have identified, three can be accomplished internally. Two others—alignment and collaboration—are potentially the most powerful but require a company to work together with its customers, suppliers, and even competitors. Here’s what must be done. Internal factors

1. Segmentation : Many pharmaceutical and medical-device companies come close to running one-size-fits-all supply chains. In practice, however, there can be significant differences in profitability, value per unit of weight, demand, the importance of a drug or device to patients, a customer’s cost to serve, and service expectations. Forcing products with such varied characteristics through a single set of supply-chain processes creates multiple inefficiencies, such as high inventories for some products while others are in short supply, the use of expensive air freight when slower surface modes would do, or a need to reschedule production campaigns hastily to meet urgent delivery requirements. Leading companies tackle these problems by intelligently segmenting their supply chains according to the characteristics of products and the requirements of customers. They then develop forecasting, production, and distribution strategies for each category.

2. Agility: This means more than just being fast when there’s an emergency; it means building an operating model that can better respond to demand shifts and customer wishes—at the same or even reduced cost. As we mentioned, the replenishment lead time from pharmaceutical plants to distribution centers is 75 days, on average. But leading companies in sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods take a fraction of that time, often without additional investments. Companies must better align the production cycle with the patterns of patient demand and increase the low frequency of their manufacturing processes. The average stock-keeping unit (SKU) is packaged every two to three months; only about 10 percent are packaged every two weeks or less.

An agile supply-chain model also requires stability in production, replenishment, and visibility. Many health-care companies need to make deliveries from third parties and in-house plants more reliable and to upgrade their sales- and operations-planning capabilities to the standards of the fast-moving-consumer-goods industry. The necessary improvements include a more disciplined cross-functional process, a better understanding of demand-and-supply scenarios and of underlying assumptions, more effective communication, and transparency on potential supply issues and bottlenecks.

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